Matt Millen’s seven-year run as the president of the Detroit Lions was one of the worst management tenures in the history of pro sports. The Lions were the punchline to the butt of most NFL jokes under his guidance, posting a 31-81 record in seven straight losing seasons. Millen’s transition from broadcaster to NFL decision-maker was a catastrophic failure. But, some big football minds thought, at the time, the decision was the correct one.
Take Peter King for example. The longtime Sports Illustrated columnist told USA Today back in 2001 that he liked the move because his football knowledge.
“And since he’s been out of the game, there’s been no announcer I’ve seen who works harder at the combination of tape-study and player-study than Millen.”
“I would maintain he has a better knowledge of the players today than most general managers in the league. Why? He’s gotten the inside scoop on them from the whispers and insider information he gets every week inside every training facility.”
I guess those whispers and insider information weren’t beneficial to his long-term success.
King wasn’t the only columnist on the Millen-hype train. Detroit News columnist Joe Falls was also high on the hiring.
“If you question this man’s knowledge of the game and what it takes to produce a winner, you have never heard him do a game on television. He has told me more about pro football than anyone, except maybe John Madden.
He speaks plainly, clearly, emphatically and with great understanding.
Millen is the real stuff and it’s too bad the Lions couldn’t get him two years ago.”
How about this doozy from Ernest Hooper in the St. Petersburg Times?
“If the requirements of the job are heart, passion, friendliness and knowledge of the game, Millen will be a huge success.”
Unfortunately, managing the game takes much, much more than that.
Philadelphia Columnist Paul Domowitch praised the hire as well:
2001- @pdomo's thoughts on #Lions hiring Matt Millen as GM, via @bctimes https://t.co/OXFqNzdbtZ… pic.twitter.com/xa8yiYfVNJ
— Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) January 30, 2017
Also, there is Rickey Hampton, who wrote in the Flint Journal:
“Ford Jr. is right when he says there is risk involved in turning the franchise over to an untested Millen.
But the bigger risk would’ve been if the Fords did nothing and allowed themselves to continue to wallow in mediocrity.”
Unfortunately, Lions fans would have probably enjoyed mediocrity compared to what they were subjected during Millen’s tenure.
There’s no doubt Millen knows football. But, that knowledge doesn’t immediately make him a great decision-maker.
With Millen making calls, the Lions were great at being bad – much of which was due to his poor management skills. It’s great so many columnists had the broadcasters back entering the new gig, but the optimism was wildly misplaced. Millen was a complete and utter failure with the Lions. His lack of experience turned out to be his Achilles Heel.